By Nora Ciancio
In early 2020, the American Addiction Centers reported the following in their publication Statistics for Substance Abuse in Medical Professionals: healthcare professionals are 10 to 15 percent more likely to develop substance abuse than the general population.
To address this, medical, dental and nursing schools, along with CME programs, have made it a priority to break down the stigmas surrounding substance abuse and mental health disorders and to encourage those affected to seek treatment. This has led to more healthcare practitioners coming forward to get help.
Many of these practitioners who are licensed in the Commonwealth of Virginia, however, are unaware that disclosing or accessing treatment for mental health or substance use disorders — whether it be in the form of an inpatient admission, therapy sessions, or by confiding in a school administrator or employer — often leads to a report being filed with the provider’s licensing Board and that an investigation will follow.
Why is it reported?
In Virginia, mandatory reporting laws require these disclosures. Your therapist, psychiatrist, school and employer can be in violation of the regulations for not reporting that you have a mental health or substance use disorder if they have reasonable belief that it may affect your ability to safely practice.
What will be reported?
It depends. Many times, maintenance visits or routine care will not trigger a report from your mental health or addiction and recovery provider if they do not believe that your current presentation impacts your ability to practice. Cases of active addiction, diversion, self-harm or acute episodes of mental health disorders will almost always result in a report.
Can I self-report instead?
Yes. As a licensee, you also have a legal duty to report to the Board if you are unfit to practice. If you decide to self-report, let your provider, school or employer know your plan if they already have knowledge of the issue as this may relieve their legal duty to report you.
Should the fear of an investigation affect my decision to get help?
Absolutely not. Active addiction and acute mental health episodes will eventually lead to a Board investigation against your license at one point or another, so it is always better to seek the help you need upfront. In my experience representing practitioners in front of the Board, it is oftentimes helpful to show that you sought help and/or are in active treatment. This may save your license from being summarily suspended.
How can I protect my license?
Be familiar with the Board’s investigative process and know what proactive steps you can take. Consult with an attorney specializing in licensing matters to assess the benefits of self-reporting or participating in the Health Practitioner’s Monitoring Program (HPMP), and to represent you throughout the investigative process and any resulting proceedings.
Nora Ciancio joined Goodman Allen Donnelly in 2017 and focuses on representing health care professionals in licensing and discipline matters before their professional boards. She also offers representation in Medicaid and Medicare provider appeals and in credentialing and third-party payor audits, and she advises practices on regulatory and compliance issues. goodmanallen.com